Email posted on the Socialist Pakistan Network by Ammar Ali Jan
I happened to be part of that “GPO 150” when the police started using tear-gas. This is a picture of us throwing stones at the police (I’m in a red shirt on the right)
We had left Zaman park where Aitzaz had been placed under house arrest. Lahore gave the look of a deserted ghost town in the morning with the Mall road completely blocked. I was with the Labour party Pakistan, Student Action Committee and civil society members. We decided to walk our way towards the High court in pairs so that the police fails to notice us. Some of us succeeded while others, like Nauman Qaiser and Jalees Hazir were arrested at the checkpoints [addendum: Jalees Hazir made it to the High Court].
I have been to many protests in the past but I have never seen anything like the passion visible in front of the High Court. There was a consensus that if the Lahore High Court falls, the movement will fizzle out. We also had Feryal Gauhar and Hina jilani with us in the crowd and they also thought that resistance in front of the High Court is the key for a victory. As the police started shelling tear-gas indiscriminately, many started falling unconscious. All of us panicked and started fleeing the scene to evade arrests. A man who must in his 70s, started yelling to the fleeing crowd (which included me as I could no longer breath) that this was not a time to run but to fight. Eventually, the baba ji fainted as well but he encouraged all of us to come back and continue the fight.
We resisted the police for over two hours, pushing them back many a times. Express News reported that 250 to 300 shells had been fired at the protesters. Express news reporter Rabia Mehmood and AAG channel correspondent Mani almost fainted and had to be taken away from the scene. Many were vomiting because of chemicals in the tear-gas which were worse than anything I have witnessed. However, this brought the best out of the Pakistani nation. Some people were carrying salt and water for those getting injured in the fighting. Others were helping carrying people to the diagnostic center in the High Court or onto Edhi ambulances. When the police would charge protesters on one side, they would be pelted by stones from the other side. This was the key to this street battle as the police was being hit by stones from all sides which is why they could not takeover the High Court. It didn’t matter which political party or group one belonged to. Everyone was looking out for each other.
By this time, alot of lawyers, political activists and civil society members had gathered at the gates and those of us who had been there since almost 12 decided to leave as we felt dehydrated and could not breathe properly. When we went in the courtyard where all the activists had gathered (including Justice Tariq Mehmood, Advocate Anwar kamal, Hina Jila, Tehmina Daultana etc), we had no idea what this battle at the GPO really meant. We were just looking for water and a place to sit. In fact, I was a little disappointed that the numbers in front of the GPO had not been big and that the Long March could be a failure.
There was a consensus that if the Lahore High Court falls, the movement will fizzle outIt is here that we received the news that this battle had gripped the entire country’s imagination. The news channels were constantly talking about the police high-handedness and the resistance by many activists. I even received a call from a friend in States who said that she had read about the crazy fighting at the Lahore High Court. The tide was definitely turning.
After this, the people were in complete control of the city. Thousands joined Nawaz Sharif’s caravan as he defied detention orders to lead the procession from his house in Model Town. The High Court courtyard went ecstatic when we heard the news of the resignations of the IG,DIG, SP, DCO and deputy attorney general of Pakistan. Crowds cheered wildly as some of these gentlemen joined us at the High Court. The most memorable part of the evening for me was to see Aitzaz Ahsan defiantly enter the High Court building despite orders for his house arrest and the police officers stood in line to salute him. This meant a complete victory for the movement and from their onwards, it was just a matter of time before the government would be forced to accept our demands.
I feel that the way Taseer’s goons were defeated at the GPO showed the weakness of this state apparatus. It represented the best of Pakistan. On one side, it represented despair, state brutality and police repression. On the other, it reflected hope, resistance, the passions and the dreams of many Pakistanis. We had won not because of the generosity of the country’s leadership, but because of the countless sacrifices of lawyers and activists for the past 2 years with 15th march 2009 becoming the grand finale in Lahore. Despite the success, our post-colonial state is still full of problems and oppression and there will inevitably be more resistance. In all of the future struggles, we shall remember and take with us the spirit of March 15.
Ammar Ali Jan
P.S. I had always been embarrassed about the fact that Punjabi’s have shown the least amount of resistance to the establishment. Our brothers and sisters from the smaller provinces have been at the forefront of the anti-establishment struggle and have rightly accused the Punjabi leadership of making compromises. I hope our performance in Lahore and generally during the lawyers movement will also help enhance the image of Punjabi’s as people who can take a stand and fight the tyranny of an oppressor even if he is Punjabi (Salman Taseer).